File picture: Jennifer Bruce

Durban - The national laboratory service has ended its dispute with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health after urgent intervention by Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) couriers have resumed collections of blood and tissue samples from clinics in the province.

The service was stopped last week amid a R3 billion payment dispute between the health department and the NHLS.

The KZN health department was forced to divert vehicles used for specialised patient care to deliver blood and tissue sample to NHLS laboratories.

Officials are now working furiously behind the scenes to find a long-term solution to the laboratories’ cash-flow problems, which have been blamed on non-payment for services provided to provincial health departments.

The NHLS also claimed that the Gauteng Health Department owed it R900 million.

Last week, Motsoaledi held an urgent meeting with NHLS board members and KZN health management to end the impasse, which he said had been caused by “major glitches” in the billing system.

Motsoaledi suggested it would be better for the National Treasury to fund the NHLS directly.

The national Department of Health at present allocates money to provincial treasury departments to pay the NHLS, which bills provincial health departments.

Provincial health head, Dr Sibongile Zungu, said she was pleased the impasse had been resolved and that the NHLS courier services had been restored.

She said the meeting with Motsoaledi had resolved to review the funding stream for the NHLS .

“Like all government departments, NHLS will receive a budget and they would have to perform within that budget,” Zungu said.

She maintained that her department did not owe the NHLS R3bn.

“The issue of R3bn is a disputed amount. There are investigations into that amount and the findings so far do not confirm the R3bn.”

Zungu said the dispute was a result of the NHLS changing its pricing structure to charging per unit for every sample they tested when it billed the department.

“We… had a different arrangement with them (to what they were charging).

“For example, when they draw blood they charge per unit and our agreement that we signed with them said they will charge us a global amount for services provided on a monthly basis instead of per unit per test,” she said.

“That is where the issue came in; that is why there was a difference.

“If you use our arrangement the price is different to if you charged us per unit. It is like if I give you a plate of food and say it is R50 but then you say no, the rice is so much, the vegetables are so much, it is a difference,” she said.

NHLS chief executive Sagie Pillay said he was satisfied with the agreement that had been reached with the health department.

Daily News